Information...sharing it...and withholding it

August 2, 2011

On a birding/wildlife egroup that I belong to, someone had asked where the Mottled Wood Owl could be seen in Bangalore, and several people had replied, saying that they can be seen in Lalbagh. To this, there have been several responses of protests, saying that if locations are shared, harm may result to the birds/wildlife. The latest email, expressing this point of view, goes:

“I believe birders or otherwise.. we are not very aware of the impact our very presence has on many species, especially at nesting sites. Many other species including crows, dogs, monkeys, (and other humans of course), are immediately attracted to human activities. A human being, or two human beings, turning towards and looking at a bush or tree-hole with great interest (even from a short distance with binoculars/camera) makes an impossible-to-ignore subject of curiosity for all others observing that scene. Even if the owl had managed to roost/nest in secrecy until then…birders, camera people, conservationists or anyone observed around the discovered spot; are observed by many other eyes all around. Unless we are absolutely sure our interest will not/has not/can not impact the success of that particular nesting in any way, we should refrain from even wanting to know where it is.”

Here is my response…I suppose I will never learn to keep my mouth diplomatically shut. :(

Though I can understand the point of view of those who have voiced their concern….. by the logic that’s been put forth, all field research should be abandoned, and wildlife tourism should be stopped. Can this really be feasible? Is wildlife only meant for the “experts”…and how can anyone become an expert without repeated observation and documentation? How can some of us decide that others should not see what we have seen and experienced and enjoyed?

When hundreds of people walk through Lalbagh every day, of course some people are going to see the Mottled Wood Owls. By suppressing the information of their location, what can we achieve? The piquant situation of keen birders not sighting them, and non-birders seeing them (and possibly scaring them too) by sheer chance!

Suppressing information as a solution to the woes our wildlife faces is not the solution, I feel. We should share information and also shoulder the responsibility of both protecting it, and passing on to others the ethical way of observing wildlife. It is by proper observation, research and field work, that we can evolve ways of protecting our fellow-beings on earth.

“Refraining from even wanting to know where it is” is not a tenable situation…it’s only possible if one wishes to be totally ignorant. When we visit a wildlife sanctuary, do we really not want to see any wildlife at all? Do we not want to visit any wildlife sanctuaries, or even look up into the trees to see the birds?

I do respect the point of view that worries that sharing information may result in harm, but I am unable to agree that therefore, no information should be shared. All that happens is that the information “goes underground”…one person whispers it to another…and an elitist group of people, who know the locations of various creatures, will not share that information with others who were not fortunate enough to be included in that group. This kind of hiding information also breeds corruption as people try to bribe those who can show them such locations. Anything that is a secret leaks out ultimately, but in the process, I feel, more harm is done than by sharing the information honestly, with caveats as to how the wildlife should be viewed.

Opacity is never a solution. And ignorance is not innocence.

Tried my best to preserve a diplomatic (and politicially savvy) silence…but I feel that by speaking of my point of view (which I am sure many others share, and many others dispute) will result in an honest debate, without brushing everything under the carpet.